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Know Your Lore, TFH Edition: Unraveling Azeroth

Anne Stickney
02.02.15
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The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

What a map, huh? I've gotten plenty of mileage out of it -- only it was an older edition of the map, before we took Mists of Pandaria into account. Now the map has slightly changed, along with the meaning involved, and I guess there's sort of a star, although it's six pointed, now -- which means we've got another puzzle to unravel, one I've been trying to untangle for a very long time. And while I don't have all the answers (I never seem to, in these articles), we have enough information to ask some really interesting questions, and come up with some really crazy theories.

Not just about Azeroth, about the Warcraft cosmos -- that strange expanse of universe that involves a mighty battle we still don't quite understand. Draenor's involved, Azeroth's involved -- according to Algalon, there are millions of worlds that have been involved -- but how do they interlink? When I first created this map, oh so long ago, it was under the presumption that there were five old gods, which correlated to the five Dragon Aspects of Azeroth. I wasn't quite wrong, as I discovered in Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, but I wasn't quite right either. We have a sixth star, in Pandaria. I'm a fan of correlation -- so else what do we have six of?

But before we get into that, let's talk about the naaru. Because that seems like a good place to begin.

Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition. The following contains speculation based on known material. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.



The life cycle of the naaru

Here's what we know about the naaru -- they appear to be some kind of crystalline, almost non-corporeal beings composed of what seems to be fragments of the Light itself. If they are damaged, they don't exactly bleed and die, they slowly fall into a void state. This void state will eventually cycle back to a state of Light, if given enough time to do so. Which means, generally speaking, the naaru are immortal -- if left to their own devices, they will continue on indefinitely. Now here's where it gets interesting: That void cycle they go through bears a weird similarity to what we see out of the Old Gods, on Azeroth.

Cho'gall has a serious problem. No matter which universe we meet him in, he's obsessed with the end of the world. On Azeroth, this was due to his involvement with the Twilight Cult and the Old Gods. On Draenor, this was presumably discovered somewhere in his observation of the void-state naaru ensconced deep within Oshu'gun -- and his involvement with the Pale, who led him to this discovery. Oddly enough, the Pale seem to speak every now and again in a language similar to that spoken by the Old Gods -- you can see this during the Tectus encounter in Highmaul. This suggests that perhaps there is more to the naaru and the Old Gods than we'd previously thought -- that somehow, they are connected.

But the naaru aren't particularly interested in the Old Gods on Azeroth. They are far more concerned, and have always been far more concerned, with the Burning Legion and Sargeras. They are pretty much bent on the task of stopping the Burning Legion, at all costs. We don't know anything about where the naaru came from, or why they are focused so intently, and solely, on Sargeras and his army. They were simply there to help the draenei escape Sargeras' influence, they were presumably there at some point before then, to give the draenei the ata'mal crystal that Velen used to contact the naaru in the first place. How? By holding the crystal high over his head, at which point a beam of light extended to the heavens. Sounds familiar. Really familiar.


The life cycle of the Titan

Because we have those kinds of beams of light, or perhaps even Light, scattered all over Azeroth, even on Outland. They are in Titan facilities. They are in areas with high concentration of the Light's work -- the towers scattered all over the Eastern Plaguelands. They are summoned through beacons, like the one used to send a signal that put a halt to the re-origination of Azeroth -- a Titan beacon. Which, to me, sounds very much like the naaru and the Titans are related somehow, far more closely than we could have imagined. I have always had this fanciful theory kicking around in my head, that the naaru are in fact Titan paladins that have mastered the Light so completely that they transcended corporeal form, becoming an aspect of the Light itself. It's eloquent, and sort of fitting, isn't it? But I think we may be looking at something different, here.

What if a naaru is not a Titan ascended, but the last corporeal piece of a Titan's soul? All that is pure, good, glowing with peace and serenity, the last bastion of order and justice, all encapsulated into one shining, incomprehensible creature? A creature that, even in its risen state, is still capable of being damaged. Corrupted. Bled into void. A naaru may be a Titan ascendant, an avenging angel of sorts, but that does not mean that that soul, pure as it is, isn't capable of being darkened or corrupted. Even in death, Titans are not infallible creatures -- they are as susceptible, perhaps more susceptible, to darkness as anyone.

The darkness that whispers and corrupts with every word. The darkness of doubt, of violence, of sorrow, of all the terrible emotions the sha preyed upon. The darkness that festers, seemingly, within the core of every world the Titans have touched -- even Draenor has felt the cold hand of the Old Gods, evidenced by their appearance on Outland. Because maybe the Titans are not unfamiliar with the Old Gods. They have quite possibly encountered them time and time again, with far, far more frequency that we could have imagined.


Anima and the Old Gods

Matthew Rossi had a pretty intriguing thought in yesterday's Know Your Lore -- that the anima used to shape life in Azeroth, the anima stolen from the Titan Watcher Ra-den and manipulated by the mogu, used to reverse-engineer the Curse of Flesh to stone is, in fact, the blood of Old Gods. That the Titans hunted down and killed an Old God to use its blood to shape Azeroth. I like this idea -- I like it a lot, actually. It makes sense, when you think about it, because all of these pieces interlock together. Consider this: In the Arcatraz, in a naaru vessel, the naaru have locked away Harbinger Skyriss, one of the qiraji, a servant of the Old Gods. During the encounter, he says "We span the universe, as countless as the stars." He also says, upon his death, "I am merely one of... infinite multitudes."

Well, that's an interesting thought, particularly since we're playing around with the subject of infinite multiple dimensions in this expansion. Or more aptly put, timeways. Kairoz mentions this in the short story Hellscream:

Kairozdormu had advised him to expect a few strange discoveries. "I've spent my life studying the timeways. If you try to count and compare blades of grass, you'll drive yourself mad," he had said. "My plans require a few... favorable conditions, and we'll find them here. This is the perfect timeway for us. Not a perfect mirror image, but perfect nonetheless."

This isn't the first time we've heard mention of timeways. Nozdormu is supposed to watch over the various timeways of Azeroth, it was his duty as leader of the Bronze Dragonflight. Aman'Thul, Highfather of the Pantheon, gave him that responsibility.

Unto you is charged the great task of keeping the purity of time. Know that there is only one true timeline, though there are those who would have it otherwise. You must protect it. Without the truth of time as it is meant to unfold, more will be lost than you can possibly imagine. The fabric of reality will unravel. It is a heavy task--the base of all tasks of this world, for nothing can transpire without time.

There is one true timeline. But who has defined that one, true timeline? The creature that gave Nozdormu that knowledge -- Aman'Thul. Better question -- why is the timeline Aman'Thul has defined, the "one true timeline?" Because something is meant to unfold. Something is meant to happen. Something -- the base of all tasks performed on Azeroth -- is meant to come to pass. And one route through the infinite spiral of timeways will result in the conclusion Aman'Thul, indeed, all of the Pantheon are looking for. An important enough task that they empowered the Aspects to make sure this particular world was cultivated, protected.


Wells and Dreams and Stranger Things

I've theorized before on the Emerald Dream, because as far as we know, it's a unique to Azeroth. It's a backup copy of Azeroth, it's the underlying blueprint on which Azeroth was created. Presumably, in the event that Azeroth were found corrupt and re-originated, the Emerald Dream would be used as a template to re-start the world. Except that the world was not re-originated when the Titans arrived and found the Old Gods running rampant -- the Old Gods were buried underground, sealed away, the Aspects were appointed, and life, such as it was, continued on. I asked, in my theorizing, the two questions that still pester me to this day: Who, or what, is dreaming the Emerald Dream? And what happens if that person or thing wakes up?

I've also theorized before on the Well of Eternity -- it's also unique in the universe, bizarre in its complexity and bearing enough power that it drew the attention of Sargeras, once upon a time in the dawn of Azeroth's history. I've suggested it's the blood of a fallen Titan, and that's why it drew Sargeras' attention to begin with -- and why Wrathion was so interested in the water in Mists of Pandaria, having sent out plenty of minions for surveys that we never actually saw any kind of result for. Instead, Wrathion moved on to the Isle of Thunder, had us fetch the heart of the Thunder King, Lei Shen. And then, he ate the heart. And something extraordinary happened.

Wrathion says: It is filled with Titan magic, the language of creation...
Wrathion says: Oh, I see them - a million, million worlds - glittering in their perfection - but one above all others - oh -
Wrathion says: WE HAVE FALLEN. WE MUST REBUILD THE FINAL TITAN. DO NOT FORGET.
Anduin Wrynn says: What are you trying to pull?
Wrathion says: It is gone. I don't remember any of it. Oh! None of them remembered. The irony!

What is the "final Titan?" What does "We have fallen" mean? There's a few possibilities out of this. "We have fallen" could refer to Ra-den. It could refer to the Old Gods, crying out as the Titans defeated them and imprisoned them in the earth, using their blood -- the anima -- to shape all life. It could refer to the Mogu, falling as they have to the Curse of Flesh, lamenting their fate, having failed their duty -- to rebuild the final Titan. Or, it could be the strange whispers of the final Titan. The one who Azeroth was created not to create, but replicate, rebuild. The one whose template exists in the Emerald Dream.


Pantheon

The answer of the six stars has been staring us in the face every time we bring up one of these theories, hasn't it. There are six Titans officially in the Pantheon. But maybe we should expand back a bit, and look at this from a much larger landscape -- what are the Titans trying to do? Create order in the universe. How are they doing this? By creating new worlds. New worlds, or more Titans? Are we in fact shells, parasites, tiny specks and motes of existence meant to further the development of something, some creature far, far larger than we can really comprehend? Is our world a world, or is it, as I suggested in a previous column, titan young?

That seems like a remarkably far-fetched idea. But what we have to realize and acknowledge is that everything we have been told to date, everything we have learned, all historical records are just that: historical records, records that may have changed and shifted over time, much like a cosmic game of telephone -- what was said on one end, when passed through the chain of time, is not necessarily what comes out the other end of that chain. We know that for a fact -- the creation of the Aspects as defined in Dawn of the Aspects bears little evidence to the history we had previously learned.

Which means that the history of Azeroth, the genesis of Azeroth, the real purpose of Azeroth is muddled somewhere deep within that chain. But if we take everything, and I mean everything we've gone over so far in this column, we can begin to unravel what might be not just the story of Azeroth, but the story of the Warcraft universe itself.


Creation

In the beginning, there was chaos -- because as we have learned from the elements, chaos seems to be the natural state of the universe and the elements that make it. Within that chaos were the Old Gods, spanning the universe as countless as stars. And opposite the Old Gods were the Titans -- creatures of order that set to work using the very essence of chaos itself, anima, the blood of the Old Gods, to establish and create order. On and on, in an endless cycle. Why a cycle? Because creating a world with the threads and strings of chaos means that eventually, over time, over centuries or eons or however long it takes, that world will eventually work its way back to a chaotic state. It will erode, reverting to the essence that created it. Order and chaos. Light and Void. Back and forth, in perpetuity.

And that is what Sargeras saw. That is why he determined that the cause of the Titans was a futile one. Because it didn't matter how carefully they ordered worlds, eventually, in due time, the worlds would unravel and return to the darkness from which they'd been crafted.

Perhaps Sargeras spent too many centuries or eons defeating Old Gods, being swathed in their blood, dealing with the complicated process of bringing these chaotic worlds to a neutral state in which the Titans could actually work and establish the order they desired. Perhaps that dark blood seeped into him in ways the Titans didn't fully understand. Perhaps Sargeras was the first creature of order in the cosmos to fall to what we now call the Curse of the Flesh -- a Curse that warped the very essence of what he was, ripped from him wisdom, hope, the fortitude and strength to carry on in the face of all that chaos encompassed.

Regardless, he fell. He didn't just fall into darkness, he embraced it -- because as far as he was concerned, it was the natural state of the universe, and by that reckoning, the way in which the universe should always exist. He began to unmake the Titan's creations.

And he also began killing Titans.

The Pantheon were far from the only Titans in existence -- there were many of them out there, the Pantheon simply led them all. And with so many Titan-ordered worlds in existence, you can bet that Sargeras had to confront more than his fair share of Titans that defended the worlds and the order that had been created. For each Titan that fell, a soul arose -- a naaru, bent not on defeating the Old Gods. They no longer mattered. No, they were bent on defeating their murderer, and preventing him from destroying the order they'd died to protect. This legion of naaru grew in number, as more and more Titans fell -- and the Titans slowly began to go extinct. Just as Sargeras wanted.

The Titans continued in their cause, creating order out of chaos, but as their numbers dwindled, more often than not, their works met with failure. Millions upon millions of worlds, bathed in the Makers' flames, a million-million lives wasted, as Algalon said.

Desperate measures were needed. And so, the Pantheon came up with a pretty sneaky plan. They went back to one of the worlds they had already set to order, and they changed it. They created a very different world, one unique, unlike any they'd created before -- not a planet carefully set to order. They'd done that, countless times, and each time the worlds fell. No, this time they were very clever, and created not a world, but a shell, an egg. And they used a very specific blueprint to create it. They used a set of genetic code that would, in due time, given enough time, given the correct sequence of events, result in the "final Titan."

Sargeras, Champion of the Pantheon, reborn. Because the only creature logically capable of bringing down Sargeras, the only construct capable of knowing exactly what Sargeras was capable of, was Sargeras himself.

They called it Azeroth. It was meant to be the universe's salvation.


Evolution

The amount of anima needed to shape a Titan was considerably more than the amount needed to just shape a world, and the process of making it all happen was something that needed to be carefully cultivated to succeed. So they killed one Old God -- Y'shaarj -- and released his anima, using it to form the base template and get the program started. And then they encased five more Old Gods within the earth, imprisoned them there. They set up safeguards to make sure the Old Gods didn't prematurely escape. They assigned protectors to watch over the world -- the most important of these was Nozdormu, granted the gift of time. Aman'Thul's gift. Because there was only one true timeline for Azeroth, and it needed to be preserved -- the one true timeline that would end with the proper result, the rebirth of a Titan needed to bring about an end to Sargeras, and the Burning Legion, once and for all.

We have been told we cannot kill the Old Gods, because doing so would kill Azeroth. In the Tribunal of Ages, we were told the Old Gods had become malignant, that "excising the parasites would result in the loss of host." Essentially, without the anima to sustain it, Azeroth would never reach maturity. Destroying the Old Gods too soon would result in all that anima unleashed all at once, the supply would simply evaporate before it could be utilized. Encasing the Old Gods, keeping them locked away meant that that anima could be unleashed at a controlled rate. In due time -- a stretch of time and sequence of programmed events that Nozdormu was told he must uphold.

We are part of that program. Our journeys on Azeroth, our encounters with the Old Gods, the moments that we have defeated them, this has all been pre-programmed. Pre-destined. We were set on a track that would eventually lead to Deathwing's return and the Hour of Twilight -- a fail safe test designated to come into play once a certain amount of anima had been released.

In classic WoW, we killed C'thun. Its blood, the anima, had the entirety of Burning Crusade to seep into the earth and be absorbed. In Wrath of the Lich King, we defeated Yogg-Saron, unleashing another torrent of anima, and setting into sequence a chain of events that would bring about the Hour of Twilight. And we prevented it. We passed the test, ended the Age of Chaos, and the Age of Mortals began.


Redemption

Why did the Well of Eternity originally draw Sargeras' attention? Because it's the blood of a fallen Titan. It's his blood, generated by his genetic code. He recognized it, because it was him -- and he realized what the Titans were up to with this world. And he has been hell-bent on seeing Azeroth destroyed ever since. First, he tried to access the Well of Eternity and consume its powers for himself, adding to his own strength and destroying Azeroth in the process. That didn't work, due to the pesky mortal inhabitants of the world -- tiny, insignificant, but apparently capable of bringing his plans to a halt.

And that terrified him.

He spent the next several thousand years watching, waiting, planning, looking for an opening -- and he came up with a plan: If he could not confront and defeat these specks of mortality directly, he would go an alternate route, and assume their form. He sent his avatar to Azeroth, he let Aegwynn destroy it, and his spirit moved from her, to her unborn son. When, at last, that child came into maturity and his full scope of power, Sargeras struck. He set about the opening of the Dark Portal, and brought the orcs to Azeroth.

Because the surest way to corrupt a program in progress is to dump a load of corrupted data into it, and Draenor was corrupt and well on its way to destruction by the time Kil'jaeden got done with it. The orcs invaded, but that threat was neutralized, and somewhere in between, Sargeras' spirit was lost, presumably sent back to the Twisting Nether. The simple truth of the matter is this: The orcs, strange as they were, were assimilated into Azeroth's programming. And it was because of the combined efforts of Alliance and Horde that C'thun was taken down. It was because of the combined efforts of Alliance and Horde that Yogg Saron was defeated. It was because of the combined efforts of Alliance and Horde that the Hour of Twilight was brought to a halt.

Basically, Sargeras was inadvertently instrumental in furthering the success of the program he is hell-bent on trying to destroy, and we're stronger than we've ever been before because of it. We have yet to hear from Sargeras again -- presumably, he is planning another attack. One might think that he's taking his own sweet time to get this accomplished, but what is time, to a Titan, or a former Titan? Nothing at all.

Unfortunately, we have a minor problem. Small thing, really. We aren't on Azeroth anymore. We aren't there to defend it. The world's most powerful mortals have left the world they were meant to be protecting, and left it defenseless, all due to the threat of a Horde free from the influence of the Burning Legion. Free from the corruption which, when integrated with Azeroth's programming, coincidentally strengthened the planet.


The future

Of course, none of this is confirmed -- it's just a complicated web of threads within threads. And there's still the question of the Pantheon -- where have they gone? Are they fighting a cosmic battle, somewhere out on the far reaches of the universe? But the idea of Azeroth being special, of being unique somehow, means that one day we'll likely see the answers to it all. It might be this expansion, it might be several expansions down the road, but this meta-tale of cosmic proportions is one of the more fascinating ones to think about.

I've spent the majority of the last five years bringing you lore, donning a lot of tinfoil hats, and talking about the strange, convoluted story of Warcraft. I've enjoyed every last second, whether examining the lives and motivations of Azeroth's bizarre cast of characters, summing up sections of history, or spinning wild-flung theories of my own. And while this column, and this site, are both coming to a close, this isn't the last you'll hear from me -- I have far too many stories and tales left to tell. I mean, come on -- the world of Warcraft is endless, and there are infinite possibilities left to explore. I'm not going to say goodbye, because I hate goodbyes, but instead suggest that if you've enjoyed my works, and you want to hear more from me, follow my Twitter and keep an eye out there, because I'm not done yet.

And thank you. For reading, for your comments, for your questions, for your curiosity, and for your remarkable passion for this game and its story. It's been an amazing ride.


While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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